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Nurses spotlight women’s right to vote and Whitman’s voting record

Ventura County Star, 8/26/10

By Timm Herdt
Ventura County Star
August 26, 2010

SACRAMENTO — On Thursday, the 90th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment that guaranteed women the right to vote, about 2,500 California nurses came to the Capitol to praise Susan B. Anthony and condemn Meg Whitman.

The march and rally, featuring scores of women dressed in period costumes from the 1920s, was staged by the largely female California Nurses Association, ostensibly to celebrate the anniversary but, more pointedly, to call attention to the fact that for much of her adult life Whitman has not voted.

They marched behind signs that read, “Women vote for women who vote.” In addition, the nurses said, Whitman’s political views dishonor the progressive spirit of the suffragists, who in addition to advocating for women’s voting rights also backed social causes such as child-labor laws, the eight-hour day and other protections for working people.

Anita Smith, an Oxnard nurse who works for the Ventura County Health Care Plan, said she believes Whitman, a former CEO at FTD, Hasbro and eBay, places the interests of corporations above those of everyday Californians.

“As a nurse, a woman and a human rights activist, I believe somebody has to stand up,” Smith said. “If she sent 40 percent of the jobs at eBay out of the country, it’s not good for the country.”

Rita Batchley, a Ventura nurse, said there are parallels between the 20th century struggle to attain equal voting rights for all and the 21st century movement to attain universal healthcare in the United States.

“We have a suffrage movement going on in healthcare,” she said.

The rally is the latest in a series of events the Nurses Association has staged that have drawn Whitman’s ire. Among other activities, it regularly sends a contingent including an activist who dresses as “Queen Meg” to protest at Whitman campaign events.

To counter the union’s organized opposition, Whitman requested the union’s membership mailing list so that she could directly communicate with its members. Although the request was turned down, Whitman has sought independently to reach out to nurses.

“The event today is a ploy coordinated by a group of radical union bosses who have consistently misrepresented the views of hardworking nurses throughout the state,” said Andrea Jones Rivera, spokeswoman for the Whitman campaign.

Reflecting the same combative approach, Nurses Association President Rose Ann DeMoro reminded those at the rally to remember the advice the 21st century union activist Mother Jones: “No matter what the fight, don’t be ladylike.”

Many of the nurses at the rally expressed concern that, if elected, Whitman would seek to overturn California’s landmark nurse-to-patient ratios that require hospitals to maintain staffing levels sufficient to ensure that nurses have time to provide appropriate care to each patient.

Before such ratios were implemented, Smith said, she would come home from her former job at St. John’s Regional Medical Center “crying because I couldn’t take care of my patients.”

Rivera said Whitman “supports California’s nurse-to-patient ratios 100 percent and she will oppose any effort to weaken them.”

Smith and Batchley acknowledged that they do not have perfect voting records themselves, but said they regularly vote in major statewide elections. While she may have missed voting in a few elections, Smith said, she is not the one running for governor. “I’m not trying to set an example.”

Whitman has acknowledged that her voting record has been “atrocious,” and that she voted only twice between 1979 and 2002, and then in only half of the elections from 2002 to 2007.

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